Maame Biney was born in Ghana and Thomas Hong in South Korea. But their families settled in the Washington area when they were young, and they fell in love with speed at area skating clubs. Now, as two of the fastest Americans on skates, both are slated to represent the United States at the PyeongChang Olympics.
The two were among eight American skaters who locked up spots on the short-track speedskating team over the weekend at the U.S. Olympic trials in Kearns, Utah.
Biney, 17, who grew up in Reston, became the first black woman to qualify for an American Olympic speedskating team. Hong, 20, will have a chance to compete on the sport’s biggest stage in the country of his birth.
Biney was grinning and giggling all weekend, unable to contain her enthusiasm at times.
“Whenever I get really nervous, I start laughing uncontrollably. That helped me,” she said during an infectious fit of laughter during the NBC broadcast Sunday. “I’m sorry; I’m just so nervous right now.”
“I can’t believe it,” she told reporters a day earlier, shortly after making the team. “It’s a really good feeling. It has to set in first. It takes me a while before I’m like, ‘Holy cow!’ ”
[‘A nonstop parade of expertise’: How D.C. area became a speedskating hotbed]
Biney, who won bronze at the junior world championships this year, nearly swept the 500-meter races Saturday. She won five of her six races that day, including the final, which included a personal-best time of 43.161 seconds.
“When I crossed the finish line, I don’t know what I was thinking. I was just like, ‘I got first; that’s so cool,’ ” she said. “Then I realized I made the Olympic team. I started cheering like crazy.”
Biney grew up around the Dominion Speedskating Club in Reston. Hong, of Laurel, fell in love with the sport while skating with the Potomac Speedskating Club. He earned his spot on the U.S. Olympic team with his fourth-place finish in Sunday’s top 1,000-meter final.
“I’m tremendously excited,” Hong told reporters in Utah about competing in South Korea. “I’m extremely familiar with Korean culture. I’ve lived there for parts of my life, and I’m excited to go back.”
Hong was part of a U.S. team that broke the world record in the 5,000-meter relay last month in Shanghai. Because the men’s team qualified a relay team for PyeongChang — unlike the American women — Hong should have a chance to help the United States see whether its relay success on the World Cup circuit can carry over to the Olympics.
Biney is the youngest of the three women on the U.S. team, and Hong is the youngest male. Jessica Kooreman wrapped up the third and final spot on the women’s squad Sunday, punching her ticket to her second Winter Olympics. She finished behind Lana Gehring, who qualified for the team Friday, and Biney in their 1,000-meter final race, giving her enough total points to make the team.
John-Henry Krueger led the men’s team all weekend, winning finals in all three distances: the 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter races. Krueger, J.R. Celski and Aaron Tran had locked up their spots Friday and Saturday. Ryan Pivirotto wasn’t in the top 1,000-meter final Sunday but earned enough points to claim a spot on the team.
“We have a great team,” U.S. Coach Anthony Barthell said. “This is probably the most stressful competition I have ever been a part of — even when I was a competitor — but the team we are going with is an extremely strong team.”